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Ancient Dolls and Toys Tell Whole History of Race 

Author(s): Marjorie MacDill 

Reviewed work(s): 

Source: The Science News-Letter, Vol. 16, No. 454 (Dec. 21, 1929), pp. 380-381+390 

Published by: Society for Science & the Public 

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380 



A bread kneader from 
Egypt. One of the earliest 
movable toys known, believed 
to date back to 2000 B. C. 



Ancient 

Dolls 

and 





Toys Tell Whole History of Race 

J Archaeology J 



Dear Santy: 

I am seven yeres old and have been 
a good boy all yere, exsept once or 
twice, and I want you to bring me an 
electric train for Christmas and a toy 
airplane and a motor boat that reely 
runs in the water and a motor for 
my mecchano set and a trycicle. My 
sister Betty Jane is four and can't 
write yet. She wants a doll carriage 
and a doll house. 

Yours truly, 
Richard James Howard, Jr. 

P. S. we live at 65 Charles St., 
Warrenford, Ohio, in the brick house 
on the corner with two chimnies. 

Grubby pencils by the thousand are 
being grasped in grimy ringers in the 
laborious effort to set forth painful 
epistles similar in content to the 
above. For in spite of the blase 
veneer of even the youngest gener- 
ation, about this time of year it is 
tacitly conceded to be politic not to 
express too great a disbelief in jolly 
old Saint Nick. 

These childish lists of things hoped 
for on Christmas Day in the morn- 
ing contain a lot of unsuspected psy- 
chology, and in a way epitomize the 
whole of human history as well. All 
through the ages, Richard Junior has 
shown himself the father of the 
Richard Senior who is to be : his mas- 
culine mind demands the new, the 
creative, the latest evidence of me- 
chanical advance. But Betty Jane, 
from Chaldea and Egypt down to 
New York and Paris, has always 
wanted the same toys — dolls. She is the 
maternal, the careful, the conservator 
of that which will be "good for the 
children." 



By Marjorie Mac Dill 

Dr. Karl Groeber of Dresden has 
made a long study of the history of 
toys as they portray the minds of 
children through the ages. He has been 
thoroughly German in his painstaking 
exhaustiveness, thoroughly German 
also in his quick and sympathetic ap- 
preciation of the feelings and desires 
of "die Kinder." 

And he says that from prehistoric 
times down to the present, a little 
girl's play interests always have kept 
to one orbit. Her mother's round 
of household duties is the model for 
her play until the end of childhood. 
Her doll's dress may reflect the 
change of time in crinoline, stiff bro- 
cade or Scotch kilts. Her doll's 
house may have four-post beds or 
old-time cradles, but the idea under- 
lying the little girl's paraphernalia of 
playthings remains the same. 

But the range of desires in the boy 
changes often. The creative instinct 
is more strongly developed in him. 
The world of affairs his father lives 
in is reflected in his little cosmos very 
early, declares Dr. Groeber. Conse- 
quently modern toys of boys past 
infancy bear little resemblance to 
those that fell into the moat from 
medieval courtyards or cluttered up 
odd corners in the marble villas of 
ancient Rome. To the youngster of 
today a Trojan horse or a knight in 
armor wouldn't mean a thing. He is 
interested primarily in airplanes, 
automobiles, speedboats and steam 
engines— things that copy the latest 
creations of the grown-up mind. For 
this reason a survey of toy history 
throughout the ages gives a picture 
of human development in miniature. 



The toys of very young babies are 
always fundamentally the same, the 
German scientist points out. It makes 
no difference whether we search in 
ancient Egypt and Persia or in mod- 
ern Lapland or Fiji, or even in our 
own toyshops. The very earliest 
specimens that the museums of the 
world can show us are rather strik- 
ingly similar to the first toys we give 
to Baby nowadays. The wooden 
crocodile with a movable jaw that de- 
lighted some Egyptian tot three thou- 
sand years ago is not so very differ- 
ent from the painted arts-and-crafts 
toys dispensed from exclusive shops 
today. 

Models for the simple toys of very 
little children have been based on 
much the same type of model taken 
from the immediate environment. 
Since the older civilization flourished 
in the warm climates around the 
eastern end of the Mediterranean, 
we find in their ruins toys modelled 
on the characteristic creatures of 
those southern lands, such as the 
crocodile and the tiger. The children 
of the plains Indians of our own 
West made crude little figures of 
prairie animals like the bison and 
the pronghorn antelope. 

Wood, being light, unlikely to 
break, and easy to work, has been a 
favorite material for toys from time 
immemorial. Since it is also perish- 
able, comparatively few ancient 
wooden toys have come down to us. 
Most of the ancient toys that have 
survived are of clay. Many of them 
are little things like clappers, rattles, 
little pots and, of course, miniature 
figures of animals. The first dolls 



Science News-Letter for December 21, 1929 



381 



must have been primitive affairs of 
wood decked with bits of cloth and 
beads. 

The dry soil and climate of the 
Nile valley have preserved much of 
what is known of ancient Egyptian 
history. So many small figures of 
slaves and attendants were placed in 
graves to attend gentlefolk after 
death that it is difficult for archaeolo- 
gists to distinguish objects of this 
class from those that were really toys. 
Among the oldest of the "sure 
enough" toys that have been found 
are the little movable figures of the 
wooden bread kneader and crocodile. 
There is also a tiger in one of the 
Old World museums that waggles a 
bloodthirsty wooden jaw with a 
string mechanism. 

Graves of the sixth and seventh 
century A. D., opened at Akhamin 
Panopolis, have yielded a veritable 
treasure trove of indisputable chil- 
dren's toys. Some of the very earli- 
est dolls known, made of wood with 
painted heads and hair of crocheted 
yarn, came to light here. That stock 
nursery property, a horse on wheels 
dragged about by a string, also dates 
from this period. The specimens 
found differ very little, in the estima- 
tion of Dr. Groeber, from those made 
and sold by the Berchtesgaden wood 
carvers of Germany a thousand years 
later. 

In the year 1100 B. C. the founda- 
tion stone of a temple was laid in 
Susa, Persia. Onlookers threw in 
pious offerings of their most prized 
possessions. Centuries later, when 
this cite was excavated by archaeolo- 
gists, among the offerings found were 
two little animals made of white sand- 
stone. One was a lion and the other 
was an indeterminate sort of creature 
that might have been either a pig or 
porcupine. Both were on little 
wheeled stands, with a hole through 
one end for a string. From Babylon 
the solitary find of this sort is an ala- 
baster doll with movable arms. Recent 
excavations at Kish have brought to 



light a toy chariot with six horses 
that must have made some young men 
of five thousand years ago wild with 
joy. 

Toy remains from the glory and 
grandeur of Greece and Rome are all 
too few. The literature of the period 
has few references to toys, but Greek 
vases showing children's scenes give 
some idea of how the youngsters 
played. For one thing, they had clap- 
pers or rattles. Anchyras, the mathe- 
matician and soldier, is said to have 
perfected a toy of this type. The 
young Greeks had two-wheeled carts 
with a long pole and crossbar for a 
handle. This species of classical ex- 
press wagon, we know from a chance 
reference in one of Aristophanes* 
comedies, cost an obulus apiece, or 
about three cents, in the Athens 
market. We also know that the boys 
had toy soldiers of wood which were 
kept inside hollow Trojan horses, 
faithful to the best classical tradition 
of the fall of Troy. According to 
later reports, wooden horses were 
made and sold in the neighborhood 
of the Trojan ruins along with regi- 
ments of little soldiers to fill them. 

The only Greek and Roman dolls 
that have survived are of clay with 
arms and legs fastened to the trunk 
with strings. There are also a few 
small pieces of bronze furniture. 
From references in classical literature 
we know that a Roman girl on her 
wedding morning sacrificed her dolls 
to the goddess of marriage. 

Even less is known about the toys 
of the children of the early middle 
ages than of those of antiquity. The 
primitive standard of living and total 
absence of comfort of that rough era 
probably did not foster any very elab- 
orate amusements for the offspring 
of even the nobility. Children were 
not considered important, so they are 
seldom mentioned, and, aside from 
representations of the Christ Child, 
not often pictured. There are a few 
clay dolls, horses and armored knights. 
In one collection of Europe is a tiny 




lady on a palfrey with a falcon on her 
wrist. 

One of the most interesting relics 
of the Middle Ages comes from 
France. On the bridges over the Seine 
during medieval times were little 
booths and stalls at which figures of 
the saints and little knicknacks of tin 
and lead were offered for sale to 
passers-by. Whether one of these 
shops was destroyed or whether it 
had a more than usually wide crack 
in the floor will never be known, but 
when recent dredging operations were 
under way in the Seine several of 
these little lead and tin figures were 
found. Among them was a little tin 
knight in armor that can be fairly 
classed as the forerunner of all the 
legions of tin soldiers that saw the 
light of day in the nineteenth cen- 
tury. The tiny tin knight is unmis- 
takably a real tin soldier, with a base 
to hold him upright just like those 
attached to the feet of the tin armies 
procurable on the ten-cent store coun- 
ter today. 

Brass horses we learn about from 
a North German saga, which tells of 
a youth of six who lends his four- 
year-old friend his brazen steed to 
play with. 

Though no dolls of the fifteenth 
century have survived that can be 
dated definitely, there is evidence that 
there were hand workers of Nurem- 
berg at this period who made the 
production of dolls their principal 
business. About other kinds of play- 
things at this time there is no infor- 
mation in any book or picture, save 
here and there a little windmill or 
hobby horse in the hands of the Christ 
Child or his small friends in some 
church painting of the Holy Family. 
Several gorgeous figures of miniature 
knights have been preserved, however, 
from late medieval times. 

If it were not for the woodcut of 
the games of the young Kaiser Maxi- 
milian I, made by Burgkmair in 1516, 
they might have been regarded simply 
as models of tilting armor. This 
picture shows that these elaborately 
accoutred figures were used in a tilt- 
ing game on a table. They were 
placed opposite each other with lances 
crouched. Then each child pushed 
his knight against that of the other, 
trying to strike (Turn to page 390) 



Horses and wagon made 
by the famous toy makers of 
Oberammergan. Forerunner 
of the miniature "Graf Zep- 
pelins" of today. 



Courtesy of Museum of Gg. Lang 8. Erben,Oberammeyau. 



39C 



Toys Tell History of Race — Continued 



his opponent so as to heave him out 
of the saddle. 

One of these miniature knights, 
now in the Bavarian National Mu- 
seum at Munich, is so grand that it 
could only have been intended for a 
young princeling. The work of the 
most skilled armorer was necessary to 
reproduce the minutely detailed copy 
of a knight's harness. The figures of 
the horse and his rider are the work 
of expert carvers, while the trappings 
of thin silk are a precise copy of the 
full-sized original in tournament 
array. 

There are no records to show how 
the manufacture of toys was regu- 
lated by the medieval guilds. Only 
by the sixteenth century is it possible 
to get a glimpse of how the famous 
toy trade of Germany was organized. 
Manufacture of objects for the church 
had been falling off in many places, 
especially in the north of Germany. 
Consequently, artists and craftsmen 
began to cast about for a less pre- 
tentious medium for their craft. 

About this time the collecting habit 

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arose. That pride and joy of a little 
girl's heart, the doll house, became the 
plaything of queens and duchesses. 
Even the substantial burghers of Hol- 
land wasted fortunes on them. They 
became, in fact, curio cabinets and a 
sort of symbol or outward sign of 
the collector-owner's wealth and posi- 
tion. The new craze, of course, stim- 
ulated toy making. Nuremberg be- 
came the center of the toy industry 
of the world, though Augsberg and 
Ulm also became renowned for their 
doll houses, furniture and fittings. 

Many of the furnishings were made 
by craftsmen as incidentals to their 
trade, for the regulations of the old- 
time guilds were as complicated as 
those of any present-day plumbers' 
or carpenters' union. The cabinet- 
maker made to order the furniture 
for the doll house, the tin and cooper 
smiths the utensils and the potter the 
tiny bits of crockery. Thus each 
trade got a share of the business. 
With such restrictions there could be 
no toy factory in the modern sense 
of the word, for even the man who 
made the dols' heads could not paint 
the faces on them. They had to be 
turned over to a fellow who was 
known as a "bismuth painter." 

Nuremberg did not rest its repu- 
tation as a toy town entirely on the 
local craftsmen. It was really a dis- 
tribution depot for the simple wooden 
toys made by the peasants of Berch- 
tesgaden, Thuringia and Oberammer- 

Ilium — Cont'd 

will I maintain that his acquaintance 
with the Troad and with Troy was 
that of a resident; but certainly he 
was not without personal knowledge 
of the localities, for his descriptions 
of the Troad in general, and of the 
Plain of Troy in particular, are too 
truthful for us to believe that he 
could have drawn all his details from 
the ancient myth. If, as appears 
likely, he visited the Plain in the 
ninth century B. C, he would prop- 
ably have found the Aeolic Ilium al- 
ready long established, having its 
Acropolis on Hissarlik and its lower 
town on the site of Novum Ilium. 
It would, therefore, be but natural 
that he should depict Priam's Troy 
as a large city, with an acropolis 
called Pergamos, the more so as in his 
time every larger city had its Acro- 
polis. My excavations have reduced 
the Homeric Ilium to its real pro- 
portions. 

Science News-Letter, December 21, 1929 



gau, who spent the long winter months 
carving household utensils, such as 
spoons and bowls, and eventually toys. 

At first the craft was a purely home 
industry, but the peasant carvers grad- 
ually came to conform to the demands 
of the trade until toys from these re- 
gions took on a characteristic uniform 
appearance well known to all parts 
of the globe where Nuremberg toy 
agents penetrated. 

Oberammergau, the home of the 
Passion Play, was the first place, so 
far as can be learned, where these 
light and pretty toys were made. 
Their manufacture sprang up first in 
connection with the carving of cruci- 
fixes and images of the saints. The 
workers considered themselves artists 
and organized a carvers' guild. Un- 
happily, the growth of mass produc- 
tion has forced this type of artisan 
practically out of existence. He has 
become a factory hand and his indi- 
vidual touch, which gave the inex- 
pensive toys of the past personality 
and charm has vanished completely. 

Science News- Letter, December 21, 1929 



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